Cleanse This: My So-called Cleanse Experience

Who out there has tried a cleanse?

(I’ll bet a few of you nodded yes)

Who out there has THOUGHT about trying a cleanse?

(I bet many of you nodded yes and raised your hands to that question)

Green juice – not so appetizing

Cleansing has been an on and off topic in our household for at least a few years. We have fanatical friends who go on radical juice cleanses once a month (or so it seems) and family members who have committed to month-long “gentler” cleanses that include solid food and  smoothies galore, not to mention that a raw foods & fresh juice retailer opened  around the corner last year,  taunting us on a daily basis to give starvation a shot for the low price of $60 per day. All participants claim to feel fabulous afterwards: clearer skin, leaner waist lines, higher energy levels. And despite all this, I’ve shied away from it. Until…

I read about Bon Appetit’s Food Lover’s Cleanse. I fell for it hook, line and sinker over the winter holidays as I overindulged meal after meal, and gluttonously flipped through the magazine in my limited time away from the table. The principles are simple: tons of fruit and vegetables, lots of whole grains and healthy fats,   limited caffeine and alcohol, and only natural sweeteners. 3 square meals + 2 snacks per day. It’s a non-cleanser’s cleanse. Sounds pretty good for 2 weeks, right? Here’s the tough part: no dairy, no refined bread, no pasta. For 2 weeks. Ouch. But, still, a heck of a lot better than all liquid, all the time for a week, right? That green juice scares me.

Black Cod with Swiss Chard, Olives, and Lemon with Red Quinoa on the side (photo courtesy of Bon Appetit)

The magazine hooked me on Day #1’s recipe for Cod with Swiss Chard and Red Quinoa with Pistachios.  Doesn’t sound like a painful meal to consume to me. The rest of the recipes were online, along with a shopping list to help plan your meals. Hubs and I discussed, and he agreed to commit. We decided to give it a whirl, and roughly followed the plan for about 2 weeks. I know, that sounds pretty loosy-goosy, but it was a start. I probably prepared about a dozen recipes altogether from the 14 day Cleanse (thank you author Sara Dickerman), several of which I have repeated (voluntarily) since, and a few that are now permanent additions to my repertoire. I’ll be writing about these new additions in upcoming posts.

Few other comments on the Cleanse: This is not a raid-your-pantry undertaking. Quite a bit of shopping was required, which I found to be a pro and con. The cleanse took me out of my comfort zone cooking-wise, incorporating quite a few new ingredients like harissa, red quinoa, hazelnuts (who buys hazelnuts on a regular basis?), but that was also fun. From a time investment, many of the dinner recipes were time-consuming. As a huge fan of the Minimalist, Mark Bittman, I like simple meals and some of the dinner recommendations were complex, and took a lot of prep. Hubs reminded me that the plan didn’t portend to be “fast and easy weeknight recipes,” but I still thought it worth mentioning.

In the meantime, a few words about the teaser recipe that got me hooked – Black Cod with Swiss Chard and Red Quinoa.  Delicious! What a satisfying and flavorful meal – Hubs even tasted the swiss chard. I tried a few substitutes for black cod, since it is hard to come by – regular cod, sea bass. All worked fine. And the Red Quinoa with Pistachios recipe is just delicious. Red quinoa does taste different from your standard quinoa – it’s also more expensive and harder to find. This was my first dish with it and it’s worth a try.  I’ll post the recipe below for you as well. Hubs loved it, too,

Red Quinoa with Pistachios (adapted from Bon Appetit)

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup red quinoa, rinsed well in a fine-mesh sieve
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1/4 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint (I omitted as I didn’t have any on hand, and was delicious nonetheless)


  • Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallot, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add quinoa and cook, stirring frequently, until quinoa starts to toast and smell nutty, about 5 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.
  • Stir in quinoa, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer gently until quinoa is tender, 25-30 minutes (15 if using white quinoa). Remove pan from heat, fluff quinoa with a fork. Cover; let stand for 5 minutes.
  • Fold pistachios, parsley, and mint into quinoa. Season with salt and pepper.

Yield: 4 servings, or as a side dish for 2 with leftovers


Weston Price, Paleo, GAPS: Word jumble or meaningful diets?

There are many theories and philosophies on healthy eating, some of them seemingly contradictory: eat meat, don’t eat meat, eat lots of fish, go vegan, use lots of healthy oils, low-fat, consume probiotics, don’t and the list goes on. There is also a lot of “new” vocabulary out there  like Paleo, Weston Price, and GAPS. In my opinion, it’s important to find a lifestyle, not a diet per se, that fits you and your family. At the same time, it’s good to be aware of what’s out there. I have curated a few links to posts about these philosophies that I hope you’ll find informative and will help you make healthy choices

True Confessions: I Heart Snails

As many of you know, I have been a vegetarian for a looong time (ok, pescatarian). I have not eaten meat/chicken/turkey of any kind for over a decade. But, admittedly a few escargot have passed these lips. I remember first tasting snails as a little girl. For some reason, my mom kept a set of large shells in a plastic tube and she would actually prepare escargot once in awhile. The actual snails were sold in a can, and my mom would make the decadent butter, shallot and parsley sauce. After gobbling up the snails, I’d dunk bread in the heavenly butter sauce and sop up every bit. That may be my “madeline” moment  from childhood.

Bizarre, I know. But my mom didn’t bake, so I had snails. I really don’t know how snails are categorized (fish, fowl, insect??), apart from being gastropods. Wikipedia calls them gastropod mollusks, so does that put them in the same category as fish? But the snails commonly served as escargot are definitely terrestrial, not maritime.  I guess that’s why I haven’t been able to let them go despite the fact that when I think intellectually about what I’m eating, it’s totally gross.

I enjoyed Jeff Gordinier’s tongue in cheek NY Times article entitled, “The Snail Wrangler.” It’s about the elevation of the common snail  in today’s restaurant supply chain. It reminded me of my fondness for escargot, despite the obvious contradictions with my usual eating habits.

Please don’t think less of me for divulging this weakness…and feel free to share any of yours.

Next up: Community Supported Fishing?

As you know, I am a huge fan of Community Supported Agriculture  programs (CSAs), and the state of Maine.  I’ve been reading a lot about variations on the CSA theme. Yesterday, the NY Times published an article about weekly pick-up programs for fresh fish that truly help sustain fishing villages. Patricia Leigh Brown writes about Port Clyde Fresh Catch, started a few years ago by fisherman Glen Libby in Port Clyde, Maine (clearly a story after my own heart).

Port Clyde, Maine

In an effort to protect over-fished populations, many government regulations  have hurt the commercial fishing industry.  Mr. Libby came up with the idea to sell directly to consumers on a subscription basis to help pull his community together.  Mr. Libby’s idea was to turn the business on its head and sell a “mixed bag” directly to consumers, just like CSAs, instead of via wholesalers. The beauty of it is that the fisherman can catch local fish that are sustainable, not just the high-demand fish like cod, haddock, etc.  The bonus for consumers is that they’ll be introduced to new fish and seafood, much like I am confronted with never-prepared vegetables before from my CSA, AND will consume responsibly caught fish. More opportunity to experiment and learn for the home cook – all in a way that helps the local community and our maritime friends. Win-win.

Happy reading.

I Never Thought Eating Organic Was More Nutritious per se…Did You?

Stanford scientists published a much talked about study this week entitled, “Are Organic Foods Safer or Healthier than Conventional Alternatives?: A Systematic Review.” The conclusion of the study states, “The published literature lacks strong evidence that organic foods are significantly more nutritious than conventional foods. Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”

There has been a lot of talk about this because many folks are under the assumption that eating organic is more nutritious. The NY Times had an interesting piece on it as well. Here is a link to the article. I was honestly surprised to hear that. When I choose to purchase organic foods or products, it is for preventative reasons. I want to avoid the bad stuff, like pesticide residue and bacteria and who knows what else mentioned above. I also have a hidden hope that the produce will taste better, more like real fruits and vegetables should taste (not always the case). But, I have never thought that they’d be more vitamin and nutrient-laden.

If you buy organic, what is your motivation? I’m curious to hear.

Reminiscing at Red Sky and Happy Anniversary

It’s far too hot this week to cook, so I’ll take a few minutes to write about a favorite restaurant we recently visited in Southwest Harbor, Maine, called Red Sky. The intimate dining room is open year-round for dinner (a rarity in these parts) and has a wonderful menu focused on fresh, local seafood, local organic produce and home-baked breads and sweets. During the summer, Elizabeth and James works round the clock, front of house and back, to bring delicious, elegant and thoughtfully prepared meals to the table 7 nights a week.  They stand out in a sea of tourism in the area, and rise far above basic, traditional dining like the classic Maine lobster pound.

Red Sky Restaurant in Southwest Harbor, Maine


As we dined on house-cured salmon, sweet Maine shrimp, fresh sole, and 100% crab meat crab cakes (I don’t think they use any binding agents, kinda ridiculous), and scrumptious, crunchy, sauteed snow peas (not even mentioned on the menu), we reminisced about past visits to Red Sky. Our first meal here was 9 years ago, and at the time, farm-to-table dining was simply what James and Elizabeth did. They were not following a food trend, merely supporting their community and preparing great food. They are leaders in the drive to source locally, particularly in a geography like Maine which has a relatively short growing season.  But what is grown is so flavorful and delicious that it makes it worth the effort.

So, back to reminiscing.  Hubs and I have had some wonderful meals here, including the weekend of our wedding 5 years ago. And, our trip this summer was to celebrate our 5 year anniversary. Coincidentally, we learned from Elizabeth that they are proudly celebrating Red Sky’s 10th anniversary this year. Happy Anniversary to Elizabeth and James, and many more! We look forward to our next visit.

Buyer Beware, or the Politics of Food

So you thought you were doing good by eating organic? Well, organic has gone mainstream, or rather, the way of agribusiness. So if you selected organic produce or foods for social reasons, buyer beware.

What’s a responsible, socially conscious consumer to do? It is tough when you are pulled in many directions, but it’s hard to feel holy when you realize that most supermarket organic brands like Stonyfield Farm yogurts, Kashi cereals and Naked Juice juices are all owned by big corporations. I have no beef with big companies, it is merely that consumers need to realize that the certified organic seal of approval refers to the methods used to grow or produce the food. It does not refer to the size of the farm, or the type of ownership. Merely because a head of lettuce was grown on an organic farm does not mean that it’s hand-picked from a mom and pop, old time-y farmstead with a big wrap-around porch.  It’s still a good thing for your body, so yes, feel good about that. You are consuming food that is pesticide-free and from a farm that has been regulated as such, but don’t fool yourself into thinking you are supporting the independent farmer. Read the label and inform yourself before making any assumptions, particularly when shopping in the grocery store.

You can read more in this recent article from the NY Times entitled, “Has Organic Been Oversized?”

Local v Comfort

Join the debate on Local v Comfort. I enjoyed this article from the NY Times entitled “When Local Sourcing Means Aisle 12.” It has comments and thoughts from chefs across the country about their favorite comfort foods, and how that generally equates to processed, packaged foods. It is a wry look at how these chefs espouse local, seasonal, farm to table, etc, yet their fallbacks tend to have an extended shelf life and impossible-to-pronounce ingredients.

Some examples include American cheese slices, Fritos and Saltines. Land O’Lakes American cheese Kraft singles, really, Wylie Dufresne? Guess nobody’s perfect, huh?

[I stand corrected by none other than Jeff Gordinier, the author of the article. Thanks, Jeff]

Michael Chiarello says that he loves Skippy peanut butter and cannot stand organic peanut butter. That actually surprised me. I love pure peanut butter, made only with peanuts and salt. Actually don’t care if it’s organic or not, just don’t want the hydrogenated oils in Skippy and other live-forever peanut butters.

It also pokes fun at some restaurants’ attempts to make homemade versions of “classic” processed foods, like ketchup. Seriously, why mess with perfection when you have Heinz? Even I’m not in favor of that. I’ve had “homemade” ketchup before in a restaurant and it is usually a disaster. Not worth anyone’s effort to prepare, and certainly not appreciated on this end.

From the news today: Can athletes run better on a vegan diet?

I will try not to prosthelytize, and if I do, please stop me. I’m not trying to convert anyone to a certain type of diet, nor am I in favor of extremism, but I do think we can eat healthier and still enjoy food.

In today’s NY Times Health section, there was an interesting article about high performance athletes and vegan diets, debating distance runner Scott Jurek’s choice to be a vegan and whether it is the reason behind his success. That’s Scott below.

The author interviewed 3 sports nutrition experts, including D. Enette Larson-Meyer, an associate professor of nutrition at the University of Wyoming. In case you don’t have a chance to read the article, I’ll cut to my favorite quote:

I like to tell people that if we got most Americans to eat one less serving of meat every day, there would be far greater impact from that, in terms of improving overall public health and the health of the planet, than convincing a tiny group of endurance athletes to go full vegan.

Now that’s what I’m talking about. No need to preach, just eat better.